Last week Yahoo announced it had a new logo, the first change to the search engine’s branding in eighteen years. Dropping the youthful font of its previous iteration, Yahoo’s new logo is a more refined, narrow sans serif font in a darker purple. Marissa Mayer, the head of the company, wanted a logo that reflected Yahoo’s “whimsical side”; after a month of branding work in which Yahoo employees posted a different logo variation every day in August, Mayer finally picked the winner—and not without some controversy. The breathlessly happy unveiling on September 4th was met with…yawns. I honestly have trouble deciding whether the move was a bumbling reflection of Yahoo’s hopelessly outdated habits or a brilliant meta-narrative twist on the old marketing adage “there’s no such thing as bad press.” For while the new logo has illustrated many of the ways in which logos no longer matter in this world, Yahoo’s user base has hit 800 million active monthly users.
Yahoo’s logo change reflects a lot on them as a company and their place in the modern web world—or not, as the case may be. The search engine, once one of the biggest competitors in the early days of the World Wide Web, has struggled to maintain relevancy in a post-Google world. Mayer was very famously hired away from Google to try to turn Yahoo around; while the company has seen increased traffic under her leadership, it hasn’t quite translated into higher earnings. With the lukewarm reception of the new logo, many critics are, once again, voicing the possibility that Yahoo is just a relic from a bygone age, a dinosaur that doesn’t know it’s extinct yet. As much as I’d like to see Meyer succeed as a woman in a predominantly male-oriented industry, I’m inclined to agree with them.
Maybe it’s because I remember Ye Olde Days of Netscape Navigator, ICQ, and Altavista, but Yahoo just feels like a relic of a pre-social media world. Being a news aggregator is great, until feeds from Twitter and Facebook come along to allow users to create their own custom streams. If you ask most young savvy web users, many might not even realize that there was a search option outside of Google for a very long time; some of us remember the old “Yahoo!” yodel, but it calls back memories of dialup modem screeches and AOL keywords. Even the act of announcing a new logo design feels adorably quaint in a world where users are increasingly skeptical of traditional advertising methods. Today’s 18-49 demographic is a moving target; they expect to be advertised to and they don’t tolerate BS.
And yet, the move has generated a ton of buzz—even negative buzz—and some would point out that the very fact that I’ve written this post is an indication that the tactic was successful. It’s a fact that the Web’s attention span is ridiculously short, and you need to do something very good or something absolutely humiliating in order to be on the public radar for even a day. So the logo change and the response to it may end up actually working in Yahoo’s favor in the long run, simply because it’s gotten people talking about them again—and in the world of the web, that’s more than most people can ever hope to get.